Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri of Egypt was killed Saturday night in Afghanistan by a U.S. drone strike, U.S. President Joe Biden announced Monday on live television.
"On Saturday, on my orders, the United States carried out a successful air strike on Kabul, Afghanistan, that killed the al-Qaeda emir, Ayman al-Zawahiri," he said in a short speech from the White House.
"Justice has been served and this terrorist leader is no more," Biden added.
Zawahiri was one of the most wanted terrorists in the world and the United States promised $25 million for any information leading to his capture. He had taken the head of the jihadist nebula in 2011, after the death of Osama Bin Laden, killed by an American commando in Pakistan.
Untraceable for more than ten years, he was considered one of the masterminds of the September 11, 2001 attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people in the United States.
His death will allow the families of victims killed in the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and at the Pentagon headquarters near Washington, "to turn the page," said the Democratic president.
Two Hellfire missiles
The drone attack was carried out with two Hellfire missiles and without any U.S. military presence on the ground, a U.S. official said, demonstrating the U.S. ability "to identify and locate even the world's most wanted terrorists and take action to eliminate them.
Ayman al-Zawahiri had been spotted "multiple times and for long periods of time on the balcony where he was finally shot" in the Afghan capital, he added.
But there were no signs of an explosion in the building and no one was injured in the operation. These two elements suggest that the Americans used the Hellfire R9X, a missile equipped with six razor-like blades, which slices through its target but does not explode.
Named the "Flying Ginsu" after a famous 1980s television commercial for a brand of kitchen knives, the missile has become the ammunition of choice for killing leaders of jihadist groups, while avoiding civilian casualties.
The three-story house is located in Sherpur, an affluent neighborhood in the Afghan capital, where several villas are occupied by high-ranking Taliban officials and commanders. The area was quickly sealed off by armed Taliban early Tuesday morning.
Several residents interviewed by AFP thought the mansion was empty.
"We haven't seen anyone living there for almost a year," assured an employee of a nearby office. The house "has always been (plunged) in the dark, without a single light bulb lit.
Others doubted the news of the al-Qaeda leader's death.
"I don't think it's true. It's just propaganda," said Fahim Shah, 66.
"They should show the world that they killed this man and produce the proof," said Abdul Kabir.